The story is told of a child who upon coming across a TV set different from theirs asked, “Daddy, what’s that behind the TV?” And reader, there was nothing behind the TV. It was just one of those old models and this child had never seen anything but flatscreen TVs. That old TV is a relic of the past, much like retirement. Retirement used to be this thing every working person looked forward to doing, now only a fraction, a minuscule fraction of the working class sees it as a possible future occurrence. Let’s talk about the end of retirement and some ideas about how to address it.
Causes of the end of retirement
Here are some of the reasons why too many people are no longer able to retire and are forced to keep working well into old age.
The changing nature of work
The world has been changed by a range of factors including automation and technological changes. Automation has led to the disappearance of jobs as people are replaced by machines. If you can’t even work, there’s no way you can retire. Technology has led to the growth of the gig economy. In the gig economy, workers are classified as contractors and get zero benefits and protections that traditional employees got. These workers are often paid poverty wages and don’t have the opportunity to organize because of how isolated they usually are. They also don’t have job security and can be terminated at any time based on the whims of their bosses. Low pay, no benefits and job insecurity are not consistent with saving for retirement.
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Weakening workers’ protections
Even outside the gig economy, many workers are classified as independent contractors and are not unionized. Unions have also been decreasing in power which means things workers fought for like minimum wage and worker’s compensation and employer-contributed retirement funds are largely gone.
Capitalism is a system that prioritizes profit over people and without unions to reign them in, companies exploit their workers to the maximum. With higher levels of unemployment occasioned by automation, workers are often willing to compete for whatever scraps companies are willing to offer which only results in a race to the bottom with none of the workers earning enough to even dream about retirement.
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Withdrawal of social safety nets
Social security including related to healthcare and support for the elderly is slowly being eroded. Too many countries in the age of neoliberalism are cutting back on social services because they are viewed as loss-making expenses.
As countries tighten their fiscal belts, the first things to be sacrificed are often social safety nets. This often compounds the problems faced by old people because this is when they are facing many health concerns and have to spend a lot of money on treatment.
If you’re not wealthy, to begin with, healthcare will drain all your funds and if you were economically precarious, you just may lose your life as you work through your illness and are unable to afford treatment.
The end of retirement is a complex problem with many moving parts, the key to finding solutions is prioritizing people’s needs over profit generation. Some things we could do to ensure people are not forced to work well into old age are:
Universal Basic Income
If automation continues on the same trajectory, we’re looking at a future with extremely high unemployment levels. Having universal basic income, an unconditional sum of money that all citizens get to help them meet their material needs. This means people who have reached retirement age will not be forced to keep working just to afford to stay alive. The Case For Universal Basic Income (UBI)
Free Quality Healthcare
It’s critical that there be free quality healthcare especially because health concerns increase with age and can be so high as to bankrupt individuals and force them to keep working well past the time when their bodies can.
Free Quality Education
People need access to better education and training to adapt to the changing nature of work.
We need to strengthen unions and workers’ protections, without it workers will just be at the mercy of gluttonous capitalists. Things like the minimum wage must go up as well as worker protections like making sure companies recognize gig workers as employees and offer them the same protections as well as mandatory employer-contributed retirement funds.
The Case For Universal Basic Income (UBI)
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